Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Musical Moments--Grey Gardens

Since seeing Grey Gardens last week I can't get the show out of my head. The tunes linger, the characters haunt, and the performances live on as some of the best I've seen on Broadway in recent memory. So I thought I'd follow up my last post by spotlighting a couple of the musical numbers from the show with one of my Musical Moments posts.

Grey Gardens is performed in two acts and tells the story of the two Edith Bouvier Beales, a mother and daughter known as "Big" Edie and "Little" Edie, who were also the aunt and first cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. The first act takes place during the summer of 1941 at the Beale's East Hampton estate, Grey Gardens, on the day that Little Edie's engagement to Joe Kennedy Jr. is to be announced. The action revolves around the high society preparations for the engagement party and sets up the complex relationships of not only mother and daughter, but the entire family as well. By the end of the first act, Big Edie's controlling, competitive nature has sabotaged her daughter's engagement just as her own marriage is falling apart. The act closes as Mrs. Beale goes out to the garden where dozens of her guests are awaiting the news of Little Edie's engagement, but instead, Joe Jr has called the wedding off, little Edie has run away and Big Edie's husband, Mr. Beale, has sent word that he's off to Mexico for a quickie divorce.

Follow this link to watch how Big Edie faces her guests as she sings "Will You," one of the musical numbers she has planned for the party. She struggles to maintain a brave face while inside her world is crumbling. Christine Embersole's performance of the song is heartbreaking and the lush melody is reminiscent of a Jerome Kern classic. (Sorry for not embedding, that feature was disabled for this clip on YouTube.)

The second act takes place some 32 years later after Grey Gardens has fallen into disrepair and Big and Little Edie, who still live there, have become a couple of recluse eccentrics, their co-dependant relationship seeming to imprison them there. This is the portion of the play that is based on the Maysle's 1975 documentary. The part of Little Edie in the second act is played by the same actress who plays Big Edie in the first act, in this case Christine Ebersole, symbolizing the inner conflict between mother and daughter in both characters. We meet Little Edie at the top of the second act not as the well-bred debutante we knew in the first act, but rather, as an odd, middle aged character with a bizarre sense of style who has a penchant for headdresses and mismatched outfits. We learn that she follows astrology devoutly and cares for some 50 stray cats and raccoons that live in her house. Needless to say, Little Edie is somewhat out of step with the staid community of East Hampton and in the opening of the second act she states her unique philosophy on fashion and conformity in "The Revolutionary Costume for Today." (See the clip below.)

This number was followed with at least five minutes of applause the night I saw the show and speaks to Ms. Ebersole's range as an actress. She so truly and fully inhabits both of her characters in this show, it's hard to believe at times that it's the same actress playing both roles. Enjoy.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Loved It!

Last night I finally got to see the Broadway production of Grey Gardens. I had to rush to make arrangements to see it before it closes this weekend. After seeing it I am baffled as to why it is closing so early. I knew it would be good, the buzz since its opening has been mostly positive, but I was not expecting it to be one of the smartest, well crafted musicals to hit a Broadway stage in years. Having been familiar with the Maysle's documentary on the Beale's of Grey Gardens, I was amazed at how carefully and accurately the musical's creators, composer Scott Frankel, lyricist Michael Korie and book writer Doug Wright, set up the complex and dysfunctional relationships of "Big" and "Little" Edie Bouvier Beale and the men in their lives in the first act which of course all leads up to the pay-off in the second act where we find the two Edies have become eccentric old cat ladies unable to leave the decaying Grey Gardens out of fear, responsibility and poor health.

When one watches the Maysle's documentary film on which the second act is based, there is an intangible feeling created, vary from amusement to pity. There is something hypnotic about these two "staunch" characters and their bizarre world of Grey Gardens that keeps one enthralled. The show's creators managed to capture this very same feeling--and set it to music. The performances of the two leading ladies, Mary Louise Wilson and particularly Christine Embersole, are sure to become legendary. The dramatic meat of the show is spellbinding and the two women have the audience in the palm of their hands as they lead us along the roller coaster ride of their relationship as mother and daughter. I could go on and gush about the show all night if I could, but instead, I'll let the Flaming Curmudgeon do it for me. Here is his review of Grey Gardens after seeing it last January. Enjoy.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Steam Heat

Whew! I missed it by 12 blocks. Normally I'd be home by 6:15, the time of New York's steam explosion yesterday, but things were particularly busy at my day job, so I stayed late. I left at exactly 6:15. By time I reached the subway at 53rd and Lexington the MTA was making announcements that service on the 4, 5 and 6 trains was suspended from 86th street to the Brooklyn Bridge. As I boarded my E train I thanked my lucky stars (once again) that I don't live on the East Side and therefore would be damned to use the 4,5,6 trains on a regular basis--a nightmare on any given day at rush hour, but even worse yesterday.

When I got home and flipped on the TV I saw images like the one above and having been scarred by 9/11, immediately thought: TERRORISM. But after listening to the newscast for a few minutes I was relieved to learn that it was just an old steam pipe.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Forgotten Mame...uh, I mean Meme

Way, way back before my computer and/or personal drama (having to do with health insurance--ugh!) began, I was tagged for a meme by Gavin of Why, Oh Why. It was the famous Eight Things You Never Knew About Me meme. Here goes:

1. In third grade I had a young, beautiful female teacher who was into a lot of the latest trends. She taught us the Hustle, or rather, the line dance version, The Bus Stop. We then had a dance contest. I won first place. My prize was a 45 of the BeeGees "Night Fever."

2. In high school I was on TV on the Rutgers Bowl, our local version of The College Bowl, a trivia based game show. I was our team captain. We made it to the quarter finals but were beat by Vorhees High School. (Damn them! Damn them to hell!)

3. I don't like shrimp.

4. When I'm depressed I like to listen to the Original Cast Recording of Mame. It always cheers me up: "It's Today," "Open A New Window," "We need a Little Christmas," how could you go wrong?

5. In high school I competed in Forensic Speech and Debate competitions. I won numerous trophies in the category of Humorous Interpretation performing an excerpt from Noel Coward's Present Laughter. What a fag.

6. My first job in New York was as a singing waiter.

7. I hate it when people don't personally sign their Christmas cards. I think pre-printed cards are cold and impersonal.

8. In sixth grade I was the power-hitter on my Little League team. Nevertheless, I still threw like a girl and couldn't catch worth a damn.

So there you have it. I hope you found my answers intimate and revealing. Enjoy!

I'm going to refrain from tagging anyone else with this meme since it's so far after the fact. (Sorry, Gavin!)

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Please Stand By...

Just to let you know, I'm still waiting for my new hard drive from Dell and consequently am still without access to my regular computer. As soon as it's back up and running, I'll have posts-a-plenty. But for now, please stand by...


Friday, July 13, 2007

Telling It Like It Is

Leave it to Amistead Maupin, author of the famous, gay-themed Tales of the City book series, to publicly put into words what many in the gay community have felt or said privately for years. I always found it curious that so many Hollywood stars rumored to be gay somehow end up as Scientologists. Here is a quote via Towleroad on the subject of John Travolta playing a drag role in Hairspray, opening later this month.

"...of course the Church of Scientology comes in very handy. (huge laugh from audience) It's the biggest ex gay movement in America. They catch you when you're young and confused, tell you they'll look after you, even provide you with a wife and child... Then of course you have to do what they call an audit, where you confess everything you've ever done into a tape recorder, so they've got the tapes. So once you're famous and successful you have to go along with all their nonsense about people falling into volcanoes... (pause)... then you play a woman in a movie musical, a part created by a drag queen and written by a gay man..."

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

In Memoriam: Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson died this week. A feminist who spoke out in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment and an environmentalist, Lady Bird was ahead of her time. She began the first piece of legislation introduced by a First Lady that was signed into law: The Highway Beautification Act.

I had the privilege of performing for Ms. Johnson and her daughter Linda Bird back in 1995 while I was working on a cruise ship. She still had the grace and poise befitting a First Lady and I feel honored to have met her. She died of natural causes at the age of 94.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank You

Something I noticed on my recent trips to Europe both last year and this year is that English is spoken many more places than it used to and many more places than one might think. Even in little shops and cafes the staff can usually communicate to you with at least a little English, and not just in the tourist areas. I guess this is a sign of the inevitability of English taking its place as the international language of the world. On my first trip to Europe almost 20 years ago, I remember signs and information being printed in three languages: English, French and German in addition to the language of whatever country you were in. These days, things are usually only printed in two languages: English and the language of whatever country you are in. A fact I'm sure annoys the French to no end. While this is nice and convenient for we native English-speakers, too many of us take this fact for granted.

I cannot tell you how many times in a restaurant, museum or shop while in Italy, English speakers of all kinds (thankfully, not just Americans) would parade right up to the sales counter, maitre 'd or ticket window and just blurt out whatever query they happen to have--all in English. Usually the recipients of these anglo-centric assaults could answer what ever was asked of them, but it always struck me as a bit of an insult that we English speakers cannot at least learn a few words in the language of the country we are visiting, especially since we Americans in particular demand the same of foreign visitors.

I was reminded of this today as an Asian tourist asked me subway directions to Times Square from 59th Street. She made herself understood in broken English and I was able to point the way on her subway map and send her toward the right train. She thanked me profusely, all in English, and bowed several times. Can't we English speakers do the same? Not the bowing part, but make the attempt to learn a few words when we travel abroad? I'm not talking about learning extensive vocabulary or conjugating verbs in the subjunctive tense, I'm talking about simple greetings, just four words in fact: Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank You. Surely this takes little or no effort and I've found this simple gesture is greatly appreciated no matter how badly you botch the pronunciation.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

City Snapshot: Times Square Kwik-E-Mart

As a promotion for the upcoming Simpson's Movie which opens at the end of the month, the Times Square 7-11 has been transformed into a "Kwik-E-Mart" the convenience store featured in the popular cartoon series. As you can see, the 7-11 signs have been changed to "Kwik-E-Mart" signs, a rendering of the store's proprietor, Apu, welcomes you to the Kwik-E-Mart, a real-live Apu works behind the counter, and the Slurpee machine has temporarily been turned into a Squishee machine. Enjoy!

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Poor Jud Is Dead

I regret to inform you that my hard drive was pronounced dead last night at 8:41 PM by an Eastern mystic in India who works for Dell Technical support. My hard drive had a near death experience back in February, but thanks to another Eastern mystic who performed an extraordinary feat, what amounted to the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, my hard drive was saved and we were blessed with another four months together.

Another blessing that came out of the February experience was the lesson I leared in backing my hard drive. Once my computer was revived I ran out and bought an external hard drive, backed everything up for the first time in my life and copied all my photos to CD. I stand to lose very little this time around and not anything of great importance. Thank God.

Replacing my hard drive apparently is a very simple and inexpensive procedure. So I ordered a new one from Dell. In fact, it's 10 GBs bigger than my old one but is still the smallest one they make. The most upsetting thing about this entire experience though, is that it's going to take Dell a week to ship the new hard drive and should arrive around the 16th. So I will be without a computer for 10 days. 10 DAYS! Why don't they just cut off my right arm while they're at it? I let the sales department at Dell know in no uncertain terms that in this age of overnight shipping having to wait 10 days for an item that is in stock is unacceptable. They may just lose my business to Circuit City. We'll see. I'm still in shock from the loss.

There will be a small memorial service once the old hard drive is removed. In lieu of flowers please send donations for a new computer.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Excuses, Excuses--and a couple of rants.

Hello. Remember me? I know. You probably thought I’d dropped off the face of the earth leaving Judy’s funeral as my swan song on this blog thingy, but not so. As the incomparable Elaine Stritch once slurred "I’m still here."

So just where have I been? It’s a combination of things, actually. First, things are getting busier at my day job which is totally cutting in on my time to both read all of your blogs and write my own. (I can’t be expected to do this thing for free, you know.) There have also been some personal business issues of my own which are too boring to mention here except to say they are clouding up my good brain cells and stifling my creativity. Second, after my Italian vacation an ever demanding social life has kept me away from the computer and out in the real world–"heigh ho the glamorous life!" (That’s two Sondheim quotes so far if you’re keeping track.) Third, I’m not feeling it lately. The post ideas are just not coming. I've started to write several this week, but without any real inspiration I just end up rambling. These half-written posts linger in unpublished Blogger limbo while I lack the discipline to just sit down and "finish the hat." (And that’s THREE for a "hat" trick, ladies and gentlemen–get it? Hat trick? Okay, that one was a bit forced, but bear with me, I’m suffering from a lack of creativity here.)

And the number one reason I haven’t been posting is: My computer sucks! It’s been slow and crashing a lot lately. The hard drive is almost full of ever-important documents like memos from a job I left a year and a half ago, contracts for weddings I did three years ago, and countless bad photos which seemed like a good idea at the time thanks to the convenience of a digital camera that allows me to snap away at anything without the limitations or good judgement imposed by a roll of film. I really shouldn't complain though. This laptop has lasted me, with little incident, for three and a half years, which in computer land puts it on a technological par with the gramophone. I’m due for a new computer, I know. But I’m a technophobe and fear change. So there you have it. (FYI–during the course of writing this post, my computer crashed yet again. Thank god for automatic timed saves.)

Oh yeah! And another thing! My lousy monopoly-owned Time Warner Internet connection just cuts out for no apparent reason for anywhere from 3 minutes to up to, say, 5 hours or so. This has been an intermittent problem since the beginning but has been much worse this past week. "Every day a little death." (4!) By the way, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Time Warner owns all the cables in New York, so even if I choose another company (and I have–my connection is Earthlink, but in name only) it all runs on the same lousy, Time Warner, we-don’t-give-a-damn lines and gets paid on their bill. It, too, cut out during the course of writing this post.

Anyway, that's my story. Sorry I've been away.

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